Unlike Hanoi city, Ho Chi Minh City is more hustle and bustle. Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is the most modern and fastest growing city in our country. The city’s name derived from the banks of the river upon which it is located. In 1859, the French arrived and transformed it into the capital of French colonial Indochina. Following the eventual withdrawal of both the French and the Americans, the city has prospered once again with a lively trading spirit and a special flair that has helped it to become known as, “The Paris of the East”. The Renufication Palace is one example to prove that statement. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace and was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu. Surrounded by Royal Palm trees, the dissonant 1960s architecture of this government building and the eerie mood that accompanies a walk through its deserted halls make it one of the most intriguing spectacles in HCMC. The building is deeply associated with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 when “American War” officially ended when tank number 843 of the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the gates of the building.
The history told that after crashing the gates, a soldier ran into the building and up the stairs to unfurl a VC flag from the balcony. General Minh, who had become head of the South Vietnamese state only 43 hours before, waiting with his improvised cabinet in reception chamber said ‘I have been waiting since early this morning to transfer power to you’, Minh said to the VC officer who entered the room. ‘There is no question of your transferring power’, replied the officer. ‘You cannot give up what you do not have.’
The Reunification palace is an outstanding example of 1960s architecture, with an airy and open atmosphere. The ground floor is arranged with meeting rooms, while upstairs is a grand set of reception rooms, used for welcoming foreign and national dignitaries. In the back of the structure are the president’s living quarters; check out the model boats, horse tails and severed elephants’ feet. The 2nd floor contributes a shagadelic card-playing room, complete with a cheesy round leather banquette, a barrel-shaped bar, hubcap light fixtures and groovy three-legged chairs set around a flared-legged card table. There’s also a cinema and a rooftop nightclub, complete with helipad.
Perhaps most fascinating of all is the basement with its telecommunications centre, war room and warren of tunnels, where hulking old fans chop the air and ancient radio transmitters sit impassively. Towards the end are rooms where videos appraise the palace and its history in Vietnamese, English, French, Chinese and Japanese. The national anthem is played at the end of the tape and you are expected to stand up – it would be rude not to.
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